Put The Money On The Screen

In all film, but especially low-budget or independent film, there’s a saying that goes, “Put the money on the screen.”

It implies that creators will sacrifice things like their own fees, the quality of the accommodations, number of crew members, all in order to optimize for what the viewer sees – what’s eventually on the screen, the end product, the movie. They will, therefore, prioritize the best cast members, lighting, props, location – anything they believe will make the end product better.

The ultimate success is whether people love the film. No one is going to know if there were 2 or 3 grips, what kind of bottled water was provided on set, or what the creators went through. All the viewers judge is the final product and how the film makes them feel, whether the actors were superlative, the editing flawless, and whether it stays with them and makes an impression.

Startups are very much like indie filmmaking. There are many constraints, you cannot build everything you want, and you certainly cannot have everything you want. When sacrifices have to be made, how do you prioritize?

Your “screen,” as a startup CEO, is user experience. Many of you may be thinking about how to get through this pandemic and the resulting recession. Let’s use the principle of “put the money on the screen”. Your goal is to get as many people as possible to use your product, love your product, and talk about your product. User love means the NPS will be through the roof, and they can’t live without it.

To achieve that outcome, you need to have exceptional talent that is motivated by your mission and who can do more with less. User-focused product, design, and engineering folks. You will have to give up on a fancy office, free drinks, and more painfully, the expensive, but unproven product feature you’ve longed for since inception. You and the team may even have to take pay cuts to get through this time.

A director knows that a fantastic feature will set her on a path where she can finally start to control her own destiny – choose which projects she works on, have a crew that fits the vision, and not have to worry about endless fundraising cycles. The same is true for startups. Success, here traction and revenue, will allow you to control your destiny – decide how you want to grow the company, have a team that fits the vision, and be able to raise money (or not) to fulfill the goal. And that is the best outcome for any startup CEO.

Quibi: Here’s Why It Could Be A Game Changer

Quibi is a video streaming subscription service that will launch on April 6th. But it’s not “just another” streaming service. There are a few reasons Quibi is different. For one, they are the first service that is tailored specifically to the mobile phone. Led by Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Chairman of Disney, and Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and HP, they have raised close to $2 billion (with a “B”) before launch.

Quibi is getting a lot of snark and people seem genuinely stunned by the dollars at play. But I’d argue there was no other alternative. It was actually required. Quibi is a studio, much like Disney or 20th Century Fox, but unlike those studios that have built up their content libraries over decades, Quibi has built their entire library, from scratch, in the past 2 years. And they need to launch with this library available on day one.

There are two good reasons that they decided to build a whole, original library instead of licensing or acquiring existing content:

  • Quibi has watched and learned from the evolution of Netflix and Amazon. When Netflix started, they licensed the content. When they realized that they were at the mercy of the content owners, they decided to start making original films. Amazon Prime Video followed a very similar path and now is a funder of original content, too. So, original content was the only way to launch a new service in 2020.
  • Quibi’s content format is different. Each film is actually shot in both portrait mode (full screen) and landscape mode (full screen). That means you can watch each film in both portrait and landscape and have a full screen experience regardless. You cannot do that today. Almost all video content (short or long) is shot in landscape. In addition, the films are broken into short chapters of ten minutes each. The idea here is that instead of scrolling through Twitter or Instagram when you have a short break, you could watch a “chapter” instead.

That’s why they need all of this money.

This is the first real innovation that has happened to movies since synced sound. And that is a very strong statement. Sure, technology has improved (frame rates, HD, 3D etc.), but whether we are watching it in a movie theater or on an iPhone, everyone’s experience is exactly the same: in landscape the whole time.

Quibi is finally leveraging the tech we now have (phones) to allow you to watch the movie differently. This might not seem like a big deal, but it opens up some very interesting possibilities. What if filmmakers used landscape for the “regular’ movie, and portrait…
— to watch it from the perspective of one actor?
— to show you what the characters were thinking instead of saying?
— to show you what was happening with another character or thread, in another part of the plot?
— to use a different language?
— to use no langue, but rather just silent, with everything in the facial subtext?

This is a real innovation in film and it’s really the first time that the technology we are watching the movie on, changes the movie we are watching. This has never happened before. Quibi has put constraints on itself – you can’t watch this on your television or laptop (although, I presume you can cast to them, the experience will not be as good). And by embracing constraints, it has opened itself up to creativity.

In addition, instead of being from 90-120 minutes, the movie is a set of chapters of 10 minutes. Each of those could be watched like an episode, instead of scrolling Twitter or Instagram.

This is not a regular startup. This is a movie studio plus a tech company. This is what they needed to do to give themselves a real shot. And yes, they are spending a ton on marketing. Again, what should they do? Spend a billion dollars on creating content no one sees? They are going big, they are able to raise that money, so I say, go for it.

Quibi is launching at an interesting time. We are all stuck at home during a global pandemic. This should work in their favor – who wouldn’t want a 10 minute break between the wall to wall zoom calls? Or at night while we try and decompress without a computer?

I love the fact that we are seeing innovation after centuries. It may change how movies are shot and give filmmakers a new way to speak to audiences. It’s exciting, it’s fresh, it could be huge.

I, for one, am rooting for them to succeed.